Finally: beyond the airport…

In Mid-April I finally got beyond the transit lounge of Bangkok International Airport. I’d been in the airport several times, but always on the way to someplace else. I’d been preparing for several months for this visit to the family of a friend in North-West Ang Thong province. But I still had misgivings. Could I cope with Thailand in the hot season after a New Zealand autumn? Could I cope with the food? The bathrooms? Would anyone understand my Thai?

A short flight from Hong Kong, but a world away in atmosphere. Just boarding the Thai Airways plane had a soothing effect. The runways and the transit lounge looked familiar. There’s an annoying space on the immigration form for a visa number. I don’t need a visa but I hate leaving blanks on a form! Looking at the “Address in Thailand” box I realised that I didn’t know where I was going! “Just write ‘Bangkok’” my friend advised. The immigration officer made no comment.

Out of the building and into a pickup. The heat was not as bad as I feared; it might be 35C but at least it’s not particularly humid. The expressway could be anywhere: are we in LA, Beijing, or Brazil yet? Bangkok was out there in distance somewhere, but this is the closest that I got on this trip. Next time…

I did a lot of research for this trip, including watching a lot of movies, and I drove a little in Malaysia in the 1990s. So once we got beyond the expressway the towns and roads were much as I expected. The drivers seemed a little crazy at first, but nothing as harrowing as I’ve seen in India or China.

My halting Thai at least made a good impression on my hosts. But I started to realise that just knowing a few greetings does not allow much exchange of information.

Since it was late afternoon we stopped at Ayuthaya for a little sightseeing and dinner. One thing that struck me was how small it was. And it hadn’t registered that brick would be so prevalent in the old ruins.

We spent some time at Wat Phanan Choeng, which, according to the guide book, features a 19m Buddha. It’s certainly neck-straining and stunning. I was pleased that I’d spent some time at the local Thai wat back in New Zealand, so I knew what to do with the incense and gold leaf that were thrust at me.

The next stop was a restaurant on the river, opposite a mosque (right-hand picture), which I didn’t anticipate. The food was even better than I expected. I’ve had good Thai food in Hong Kong but there’s nothing like being in the right place, with the right ingredients. My hosts were impressed that I didn’t pass out from eating the tom yam. Luckily I’d been practicing for this for months by cooking with lots of chilli.

One of my overwhelming impressions of Thailand is the amount of food I was persuaded to consume and how wonderful it all was. I eventually developed a self-defence response: the command “gin” would trigger “im laa-ou” from me.

We planned to come back and do the dinner cruise when the city is lit up at night, and I wanted see a few more temples, but in the end it didn’t work out. “Next time” was a recurring thought during my ten days in Thailand.

It was dark by the time we got “home” and I remembered that this was the tropics, and this was countryside. It was nice to see stars, even if they were somewhat unfamiliar.

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